We often think of animal care with a scientific mind, but perhaps our approach should have more of an artistic flair.

Calfhood diarrhea, or scours, is a major health challenge. When it comes to tackling this disease, Geof Smith of North Carolina State University suggests that "Avoiding diarrhea in calves may be more art than science."

In his presentation at the ADSA Large Dairy Herd Management Conference, Smith shared a mortality rate goal of less than 4 percent for preweaned calves (not counting stillbirths). "A really good dairy will get it down to less than 1 or 2 percent," he said.

Treatment rates, he stated, should be less than 20 percent, with exceptional dairy farms staying below 10 percent.

When it comes to calf health, Smith said, "The overall focus should be on management, not on products or interventions."

Management areas to take a closer look at include:

Calving area - Smith explained that the type of maternity pen doesn't matter as much as how it's managed and kept clean. "A lot of calf disease comes from the maternity area," he said.

Calf housing - Whether kept individually or in groups, calf housing needs to be clean and dry with good drainage and ventilation.

Nutrition - "Good nutrition is necessary to maximize immunity," Smith noted. Current research has shown that an elevated plane of nutrition can lead to less incidence of disease.

Stress - Stress can raise the risk of diseases like scours. Smith also noted that there is evidence bacteria can detect stress in a host and multiply.

Vaccination - This is important for both calf and dam. Smith mentioned a New Zealand study that found dry cow vaccination to be one of the most significant factors in improving calf health.

"A vast majority of disease and calf health problems stem from management," Smith reiterated. Focusing on these areas, considering both art and science, can help reduce treatment rates and mortality.

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(c) Hoard's Dairyman Intel 2016
May 16Intel,calves, 2016
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